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Detroit Autorama 2015: Bringing the Past Forward

March 10, 2015 Think THF

“Fordillac” – it’s a 1940 Ford powered by a Cadillac V-8, and it represents everything that makes the Detroit Autorama so great.

The snow is melting and the weather is warming (after a particularly frigid February), but the surest sign of spring in the Motor City is the arrival of the Detroit Autorama, the annual gathering of the best in hot rods and custom cars. From March 6-8, more than a thousand vehicles filled Cobo Center. It was exciting, inspiring, and maybe even a little overwhelming.

Greeting visitors at the exhibit hall’s main door were the “Great 8” – the eight finalists for the show’s big Ridler Award. The Ridler honors the best first-time Autorama entry, and the judges’ task is never easy. This year, their choices included everything from a 1937 Ford woody wagon to a 1965 Dodge Dart. Their winner was “The Imposter,” a fantastic 1965 Chevrolet Impala designed by the legendary Chip Foose and owned by Don Voth of Abbotsford, British Columbia. Why the name? This Impala was an imposter – the ’65 body sat atop a 2008 Corvette chassis.

They call 'em “rat rods” for a reason. The owner poetically described this 1953 Ford F-100 as a "patina project."

 

Pop-up garage! Gene Winfield's Chop Shop provided demonstrations throughout the weekend.

If the main floor was fancy, then the lower level was funky. It was the domain of the rat rods – those purposely rough-looking cars that thumb their grilles at the showpieces upstairs. It was also home to one of Autorama's greatest displays. Gene Winfield’s Chop Shop expanded its California-based garage with a sort-of satellite facility right there in Cobo. When I stopped to watch on Sunday afternoon, the Spark Plugs Auto Club of South Lyon, Michigan, had a 1929 Model A Ford under the hammer, but customizers were shaping metal and chopping rides in that space all weekend long.

The Past Forward trophy, designed and fabricated for The Henry Ford by House Industries of Yorklyn, Delaware.

For the second year in a row, The Henry Ford honored one vehicle with its Past Forward Award. We give the prize to a car that combines past traditions with modern innovations, shows exceptional technical skill, and exhibits that all-important quality central to the customizer’s art: fun! The trophy itself deserves a few words. Andy Cruz and the typeface masters at House Industries created an incredible piece for us to give to our winners. Inspired by the flowing-script make and model names that adorned so many fenders in the 1950s and 1960s, our award consists of a chrome-plated stainless steel calligram that simultaneously reads “Past Forward” and represents the classic nameplates that fuel the rodder’s and customizer’s hobby. (For more on House Industries and their work on the trophy, see here.)

Mark Eaton’s Past Forward winner, a 1957 Corvette with a circa 2010 Z06 engine and drivetrain. It truly brought the past into the present.

Our 2015 Past Forward Award winner was Mark Eaton of Wichita, Kansas. His 1957 Corvette was absolutely breathtaking. Its stainless steel body coves and chopped windshield recalled the speedsters of the past. The modern C6 Z06 powertrain underneath united two Corvette generations 50 years apart in time. The LED bulbs that bathed the undercarriage in blue light were just plain cool. It was a difficult choice, and many Autorama entries embodied our criteria, but Eaton’s Vette hit all the right notes in just the right order.

Finally, while it may not be as big a draw as the cars themselves, I always enjoy the Toy-A-Rama vendor area near the back of the hall. Don’t let that name throw you. Yes, there are vintage toys from the 1960s to the 1990s, but there are also plastic and die-cast vehicle models, rare and vintage Hot Wheels cars, and a fantastic selection of period auto catalogs, advertisements and magazines. Make sure you don’t miss it in 2016!

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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